AP

US speeds entry for Ukrainians as more reach Mexico border

Apr 6, 2022, 9:03 PM | Updated: Apr 9, 2022, 8:50 am

Ukrainian refugees wait near the U.S. border Monday, April 4, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico. About 200 t...

Ukrainian refugees wait near the U.S. border Monday, April 4, 2022, in Tijuana, Mexico. About 200 to 300 Ukrainians were being admitted daily at the San Ysidro crossing this week, with hundreds more arriving in Tijuana, according to volunteers who manage the waiting list. There were 973 families or single adults waiting on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — The United States has sharply increased the number of Ukrainians admitted to the country at the Mexican border as even more refugees fleeing the Russian invasion follow the same circuitous route.

A government recreation center in the Mexican border city of Tijuana grew to about 1,000 refugees Thursday, according to city officials. A canopy under which children played soccer only two days earlier was packed with people in rows of chairs and lined with bunk beds.

Tijuana has suddenly become a final stop for Ukrainians seeking refuge in the United States, where they are drawn by friends and families ready to host them and are convinced the U.S. will be a more suitable haven than Europe.

Word has spread rapidly on social media that a loose volunteer coalition, largely from Slavic churches in the western United States, is guiding hundreds of refugees daily from the Tijuana airport to temporary shelters, where they wait two to four days for U.S officials to admit them on humanitarian parole. In less than two weeks, volunteers worked with U.S. and Mexican officials to build a remarkably efficient and expanding network to provide food, security, transportation and shelter.

U.S. officials began funneling Ukrainians Wednesday to a pedestrian crossing in San Diego that is temporarily closed to the public, hoping to process 578 people a day there with 24 officers, said Enrique Lucero, the city of Tijuana’s director of migrant affairs.

Vlad Fedoryshyn, a volunteer with access to a waiting list, said Thursday that the U.S. processed 620 Ukrainians over 24 hours, while about 800 others are arriving daily in Tijuana. Volunteers say the U.S. was previously admitting a few hundred Ukrainians daily.

CBP didn’t provide numbers in response to questions about operations and plans over the last two days, saying only that it has expanded facilities in San Diego to deal with humanitarian cases.

On Thursday, Ukrainians steadily arrived and left the bustling recreation center, wheeling large suitcases. Some wore winter coats in unseasonably warm weather.

A Tijuana camp that had held hundreds of Ukrainians near the busiest border crossing with the U.S. was dismantled. Refugees dispersed to the recreation center, churches and hotels to wait.

The volunteers, who wear blue and yellow badges to represent the Ukrainian flag but have no group name or leader, started a waiting list on notepads and later switched to a mobile app normally used to track church attendance. Ukrainians are told to report to a U.S. border crossing as their numbers approach, a system organizers liken to waiting for a restaurant table.

“We feel so lucky, so blessed,” said Tatiana Bondarenko, who traveled through Moldova, Romania, Austria and Mexico before arriving in San Diego with her husband and children, ages 8, 12, and 15. Her final destination was Sacramento, California, to live with her mother, who she hadn’t seen in 15 years.

Another Ukrainian family posed nearby for photos under a U.S. Customs and Border Protection sign at San Diego’s San Ysidro port of entry, the busiest crossing between the U.S. and Mexico. Volunteers under a blue canopy offered snacks while refugees waited for family to pick them up or for buses to take them to a nearby church.

At the Tijuana airport, weary travelers who enter Mexico as tourists in Mexico City or Cancun are directed to a makeshift lounge in the terminal with a sign in black marker that reads, “Only for Ukrainian Refugees.” It is the only place to register to enter the U.S.

The waiting list stood at 973 families or single adults Tuesday.

“We realized we had a problem that the government wasn’t going to solve, so we solved it,” said Phil Metzger, pastor of Calvary Church in the San Diego suburb of Chula Vista, where about 75 members host Ukrainian families and another 100 refugees sleep on air mattresses and pews.

Metzger, whose pastoral work has taken him to Ukraine and Hungary, calls the operation “duct tape and glue,” but refugees prefer it to overwhelmed European countries, where millions of Ukrainians have settled.

The Biden administration has said it will accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians, but Mexico is the only route producing big numbers. Appointments at U.S. consulates in Europe are scarce, and refugee resettlement takes time.

The administration set a refugee resettlement cap of 125,000 in the 12-month period that ends Sept. 30 but accepted only 8,758 by March 31, including 704 Ukrainians. In the previous year, it capped refugee resettlement at 62,500 but took only 11,411, including 803 Ukrainians.

The administration paroled more than 76,000 Afghans through U.S. airports in response to the departure of American troops last year, but nothing similar is afoot for Ukrainians. Parole, which grants temporary protection from deportation, is generally given for two years for Afghans and one year for Ukrainians.

Oksana Dugnyk, 36, hesitated to leave her home in Bucha but acquiesced to her husband’s wishes before Russian troops invaded the town and left behind streets strewn with corpses. The couple worried about violence in Mexico with three young children, but the robust volunteer presence in Tijuana reassured them, and a friend in Ohio agreed to host them.

“We have food. We have a place to stay,” Dugnyk said a day after arriving at the Tijuana recreation center, where hundreds slept on a basketball court. “We hope everything will be fine.”

Alerted by text message or social media, Ukrainians are summoned to the border crossing as their numbers near.

The arrival of Ukrainians comes as the Biden administration prepares for much larger numbers when pandemic-related asylum limits for all nationalities end May 23. Since March 2020, the U.S. has used Title 42 authority, named for a 1944 public health law, to suspend rights to seek asylum under U.S. law and international treaty.

Metzger, the Chula Vista pastor, said his church cannot long continue its 24-hour-a-day pace helping refugees, and he suspects U.S. authorities will not adopt what volunteers have done.

“If you make something go smooth, then everybody’s going to come,” he said. “We’re making it so easy. Eventually I’m sure they’ll say, ‘No, we’re done.'”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Israeli Embassy...

Associated Press

US airman dies after setting himself ablaze outside Israeli Embassy in Israel-Hamas war protest

An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

12 hours ago

Biden and Trump to visit Mexico border Thursday immigration...

Associated Press

Biden and Trump both plan trips to the Mexico border Thursday, dueling for advantage on immigration

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will make dueling trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday.

13 hours ago

Arizona and New York attorneys feud over extraditing suspect...

Associated Press

Why Alvin Bragg and Rachel Mitchell are fighting over extraditing suspect in New York hotel killing

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell says she isn't into extraditing a suspect due to her lack of faith in Manhattan’s top prosecutor.

5 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018. A 34-year-old Color...

Associated Press

Colorado man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death by one of the desert lizards if the creature's venom turns out to have been the cause.

6 days ago

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

13 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

14 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

...

Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

...

Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

US speeds entry for Ukrainians as more reach Mexico border